Monday, 30 September 2013

Pepper Steak (Stir Fried Beef with Peppers & Onions)

Pepper Steak is a classic of North American-Chinese cooking. We first had it in the 1970's, made by a friend of my father. We all enjoyed it enough that it went into my father's little collection of recipes. It's also quick and simple enough to make for a week-night supper.

At this time of year there's a great selection of peppers to choose from for this dish. I recommend sweet ones such as Doe Hill, Alma paprika, Cubanelle, Red Shepherd, or Hungarian Sweet Wax, but there is no reason not to add a little bit of hot pepper as well... use discretion. Or not, depending on how you like it!

3 to 4 servings
40 minutes prep time

Pepper Steak (Stir Fried Beef with Peppers & Onions)

500 grams (1 pound) round (or other) steak
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon finely minced peeled fresh ginger
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 cups sliced peppers, preferably in green, yellow & red
4 large shallots
OR 2 medium onions
1 tablespoon arrowroot OR corn starch
3 tablespoons broth OR water
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Cut the steak into pieces about 1 1/2" wide, with the grain of the meat. Cut each piece into strips about 1/4" side, against the grain of the meat. Peel and mince the garlic finely. Peel and mince the ginger finely - the two should be roughly equal in volume.

Mix the garlic, ginger and soy sauce in a small bowl with the beef strips and let them marinate while you prepare the peppers and onions.

Core and deseed the peppers and cut them into bite-sized slivers. Peel the shallots or onions, and cut them into similar slivers.  Mix the arrowroot or cornstarch in a small bowl with the broth or water.

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a very large skillet over high heat. When it is hot add the beef strips with their marinade, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until browned all over and slightly dry. Remove them from the pan. (They can go back into the same bowl they marinated in.)

Heat the remaining oil in the skillet over high heat. Add the peppers and shallots or onions, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until slightly softened and about half cooked. Return the beef to the pan, and mix it in well. Continue mixing and cooking until the beef and vegetables are done to your liking, probably another 3 or 4 minutes. Stir up the starch and broth, and pour it into the pan, mixing well as you add it. As soon as the starch has thickened and is evenly distributed throughout the dish, remove it from the heat and serve it up.

Friday, 27 September 2013

A Garlic Tasting

Ann's Italian, Azores, Bogatyr, Ferganskij, Fish Lake, Foundling, and Tibetan Garlic

A few of years ago, after attending the Stratford Garlic Festival, we ended up growing 9 kinds of garlic. We thought that was a bit excessive, and that we should assess them systematically, and pare down the number. Last year we eliminated 2 of them because they were not healthy, so this year we are down to 7 kinds. (One of them was Music, a bit oddly.) Still a bit much! I can't keep track of them, and just grab one at random. We want to know: which are the best raw? Cooked? Of course, we also have to consider how well they grow in the garden and how good a crop they produce as well.

We are getting ready to plant our garlic within the next week, so it was time to do that assessment and eliminate a few. Is there really much difference between types of garlic? I have to say, while they were all noticeably garlic, the flavour profiles did vary quite a bit. We sampled each garlic raw, and then I cooked a small slice in a neutral vegetable oil for 45 seconds to one minute, until just showing faint signs of browning. One thing that quickly became clear was that our cool, rainy summer had a big impact on our garlic flavour. It was very weak in general compared to other years. Still, we went ahead and rated everything. We seem to get a cool, rainy summer about one year out of every 5, so it's not like it's an aberration.

We gave everything but Ann's Italian a 10 for storage - they were all still just barely showing signs of sprouting and the occasional bad clove when we harvested the new crop in July, except Ann's which had pooped out in mid-spring, thus earning an 8 out of 10 points.

We realised that when eaten raw, garlic has 2 noticeable layers of flavour: an initial burst of pungency, or heat, and then the underlying characteristic garlic flavour. The pungency disappears when the garlic is cooked, and the garlic flavour also changes, meaning that garlics can be quite different raw and cooked.

Ann's Italian: 
This is an unusual garlic that we chose to grow because it often produces extra cloves further up the stem; a double decker garlic. More interesting to me is that it is a semi-softneck garlic meaning that if I wanted to make a garlic braid, this would be a very good candidate.

The bad news is that in every other way it was at the bottom of the list of garlics we grow. We gave it a rating of 5 out of 10 for production (healthy growth and size of bulbs), that 8 out of 10 for storage, a 6 out of 10 for raw flavour and a 5 out of 10 for cooked flavour.

The flavour ratings may have been slightly affected by the fact that it was the first garlic we tried, but we were shocked by how, well, bland it was. Both raw and cooked it was weakly flavoured, and when cooked it had a slight bitter aftertaste. Raw, it had a good sharp horseradishy pungency to start, but it faded very quickly leaving... not much. It may have been better in a better year, but we both agreed that this was an easy elimination.

Azores (Azores Portuguese):
This one was a complete contrast to the Ann's Italian.  The flavour was strong and dark, earthy and almost harsh, but in a good way.The initial pungency was slower to build than in Ann's Italian, and lasted longer. It was never quite as sharp, but the flavour, in addition to being much stronger, lingered in the mouth.Cooked, it was still quite strong and earthy in flavour, but well-balanced.

The bulbs were large, and rated an 8 out of 10 for production, an 8 for raw flavour, and an 8 for cooked flavour.

This was one we picked up at the Stratford Garlic Festival (as was the Ann's Italian) and I don't know much about it beyond that not surprising fact that it was brought over to Canada from the Azores. We agreed that we will continue to grow this one.

Bogatyr is a fairly well-known and popular variety from Russia. The name means "hero" in Russian, and it is said to have originated near Moscow. It's a purple striped hardneck garlic with 4 to 7 cloves, and is one of our largest garlics along with Azores.

In contrast to the Azores, this seemed light and sprightly in flavour, although not weak. Nicely pungent but not too lingering, the phrase we kept repeating was "well balanced". It rated an 8 for production quality, an impressive 8.5 for raw flavour (the highest rating we gave) and an 8 for cooked flavour. Yes, we are keeping this one.

Another garlic from the Stratford Garlic Festival, Ferganskij was collected by John Swenson of the Seed Savers Exchange in a Samarkand (Uzbekistan) bazaar. Alas, in spite of this romantic history and source in the original homeland of garlic, it did not generally rate well.

It received a fairly wimpy 5 out of 10 for production, an unimpressive 5 out of 10 for raw flavour - it was surprisingly weak and bland, lacking in pungency - and an amazing 8.5 for cooked flavour: rich, nutty and well-balanced. This was the highest rating we gave for cooked flavour, but a few others were close on its heels, so we decided that did not justify our planting it again, and it was eliminated.

Fish Lake:
Here is a classic garlic, well-known amongst Canadian garlic lovers. Ted Maczka, a Polish immigrant to Ontario after World War II worked as a tool and die maker, but garlic farming was his true passion and calling. In the late 1970's and 1980's, he did much to publicise the fact that Ontario has the climate to produce great garlic, and to provide the necessary material for other growers. He became known as The Fish Lake Garlic Man, and this is the garlic that bears the Fish Lake name.

So, how does it rate? It received a 9 out of 10 for production quality, the highest rating in that category. This is a truly robust and healthy garlic. For flavour, though, it rated a 6 out of 10 raw, and a 6.5 cooked - good, but not great. Fresh, flavour was mild but built slightly. Mr. Ferdzy thought it had a faint bitter aftertaste when cooked. It was similar to Ferganskij in flavour profile, but weaker overall.

Foundling: aka The Meaford Weed:
About 4 years ago, we were driving along a side road just outside of Meaford. "Stop the car! Stop the car!" I yelled. Mr. Ferdzy stopped the car. "Back up! Back up!" Mr. Ferdzy backed up. "GARLIC!" And sure enough, it was. Around the ruins of a long-burnt down house straight scapes topped with garlic bulbils waved above the grass and weeds. We collected the best-looking specimens, and brought them home and planted them. Those first specimens were extremely puny, but they have gotten bigger and better every year as they return to a healthy cultivated state.

Meaford has a history as a garlic growing town; I keep meaning to do some research on when it started and where the garlic would have come from. We have since realised that there is garlic growing in the ditches all over the place throughout town, including just down the street and on our next-door neighbours property.

We gave it a rating of 7 out of 10 for production quality, although we hope it is still improving. For raw flavour it rated a 7.5 out of 10, and for cooked flavour a 7.5 out of 10. So overall, not the best of the garlics but a good solid second tier, and given its local history we intend to keep growing it. Fresh, it had low pungency and an even, balanced yet lingering aftertaste. Cooked, it was mild yet rich and nutty and still maintained a trace of pungency.

In previous years, Tibetan stood out as tasting distinctly different from any other garlic we grew, being particularly hot and pungent. This year, that pungency just wasn't there. It does make us a little uneasy that in a hot, dry summer our garlic ratings might be quite different. Still, as I noted, it's not like cool, wet summers don't happen regularly, so on we go...

Tibetan is up there with Azores and Bogatyr for size, and rated 8 out of 10 for production quality. This year it achieved a 7 out of 10 for raw flavour and an 8 for cooked flavour. Raw, it was mild and even with a lasting flavour. Cooked, it was nutty, well-balanced and fairly strong. Last year we rated it as very hot, but not lingering in flavour when raw - quite different.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Chicken in Roasted Garlic & Paprika Sauce

I had a little accident with this sauce; I used some fresh paprika peppers from an assortment of peppers I was growing out from seeds we picked up in Hungary a few years back. My assumption was that they were all reasonably sweet peppers. That assumption, it turned out, was quite, quite wrong. At least one of them was a humdinger of a hot pepper. Everybody still thought this was delicious, some of us because of the hot pepper, and some of us despite the hot pepper. I'll have to try it again with a little more attention to which peppers I am using.

As usual, salt will depend on whether your stock was salted or not, but if not, then try about half a teaspoon of it.

4 to 6 servings
1 hour 45 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Chicken in Roasted Garlic & Paprika Sauce

3 heads of garlic
2 cups chopped fresh sweet red peppers
8 large (1.5  kilos; 3 pounds) skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon smoked sweet Spanish or Hungarian paprika
salt to taste
1 tablespoon sherry
1 teaspoon honey

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Trim the garlic heads (HEADS, not cloves), and wrap them in foil. Roast them for about half an hour, until tender.

Meanwhile, wash, core and chop the peppers. Thick-walled peppers are best; such as Alma paprika, but Red Shepherd is widely available and should do. Put the peppers in a roasting pan, and arrange the chicken pieces over them.  Pour on the stock, and put them in the oven with the garlic. At this point, the garlic should be ready in 15 or 20 minutes; at that point remove it and reduce the heat to 350°F. (If the garlic isn't quite done, just leave it in until it is, but do reduce the heat.)

Once the peppers are very soft, in about 45 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. Remove all the peppers into a food processor, and as much of the chicken stock as you can as well. Return the chicken pieces to the oven to continue cooking while you make the sauce.

Squeeze the garlic out of the heads into the food processor, and discard the papery hulls. Add the flour, paprika, salt to taste - this will depend very much on whether your chicken stock was salted or not - the sherry, and the honey. Purée until very smooth. Pull the chicken out of the oven again, and pour the sauce evenly over it. Return it to the oven for another 15 or 20 minutes, until the sauce is thickened and bubbly.

Last year at this time I made Vaguely Asian Cabbage Salad.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Swiss Chard or Kale with Apple & Onion

Here is a very quick and easy way to serve Swiss chard or kale. The apples and onions add a touch of sweetness to balance the astringency of the leaves. This would make a good side dish with just about any pork dish, although I served it with chicken and got no complaints.

4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Swiss Chard or Kale with Apple & Onion

1 large onion
1 large apple
8 to 12 leaves of Swiss chard or kale
1 tablespoon butter or mild vegetable oil

Peel the onion, and cut it into slivers. Peel the apple, core it, and cut it into thin slices. Wash and trim the Swiss chard or kale. Cut off the stems, and discard if using kale. If using Swiss chard, cut as many as you wish to add to the dish (anywhere between all and none - I used half) into bite-sized slices. Roughly chop the leaves.

Heat the butter or oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, apple, and stem pieces if using, and sauté until they are softened and slightly browned, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the chopped leaves and continue cooking and stirring until they are all cooked down to your liking. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Beans with Peppers & Shiitakes.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Kohlrabi, Fennel & Apple Salad

Here's a nice quick salad, with tangy flavours and a good crunchy texture. Next time I make it, I'll cut things finer than I did this time, I think. They should be a little coarser than if you had grated them, but not by too much.

This has been a difficult year in the garden in many ways as it has been so cool and damp, but the fennel is loving it, and I have the best I've ever grown. I'll need to think of more ways to use it. Two little kohlrabies are preferable to one larger one, as they will likely be more tender, but you make salad with the kohlrabies that you have, not the ones you wish you had. I did have two little ones, as the kohlrabies are not loving it - all the brassicas have been so disease and bug-ridden this year - but I don't know that they were notably tender. Still, they were okay, once they were peeled and trimmed.

4 to 6 servings
20 minutes prep time

2 medium-small kohlrabies
OR 1 large kohlrabi
1 medium bulb fennel
1 large apple
the juice of 1 large lime
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons sunflower seed OR olive oil

Peel the kohlrabies and cut them into fine julienne. Trim the tough stems and base from the fennel, and slice it very finely. Peel the apple if you like, although if you have a red one the colour will add a nice touch - I suggest you leave it on. At any rate, cut it in quarters, core it, and cut it in fine julienne to match the rest of the vegetables. Toss them all with the lime juice.

Mix the honey, mustard and oil in small bowl  until well amalgamated, then toss it with the salad. Season it with a little salt to taste.

Last year at this time I made Beans with Peppers & Shiitakes. Couldn't make that this year! Between anthracnose (yes, it's as 'orrible as it sounds) and cold, the beans are over.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Fresh Corn Pancakes

Corn season is drawing to a close, and perhaps it's not quite as nice just eaten off the cob as it was. Especially if you forget you have it in the fridge for 4 days, as I did. Ooops. Still, modern corn keeps much better than it used to, and it worked very well in these yummy little pancakes.

We ate them for breakfast, but I can see them making a nice side dish as part of a regular meal. The amount of corn does make them softer than regular pancakes, and they will cook a bit slower too, so allow for that. 

12 to 16 pancakes (4 servings)
45 minutes prep time

Fresh Corn Pancakes

2 large eggs
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
kernels cut from 4 cobs fresh corn
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cups soft unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
extra oil for cooking

Put all the ingredients in the order listed into the bowl of a blender. The corn should be raw; cut the kernels off in rows onto a large cutting board then scrape the cobs well before putting it all (er, not the cobs) in the blender.

Preheat the oven to 200°F, with a heat-proof plate in it to put the pancakes as they finish cooking. Heat a large skillet (or two) over medium-high heat, with enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan(s) completely. Blend the pancake batter until very well mixed and smooth.

Pour 3 4" pancakes into the pan, and cook for 3 or 4 minutes on each side until well browned. Put the finished pancakes in the oven to keep warm, and continue cooking the rest of the batter, adding more oil to the pan as needed to prevent sticking and to keep the pancakes browning properly, as opposed to scorching. Note that the temperature to cook these should be a shade lower than the usual temperature used to cook pancakes, and they will take a little longer to cook. The finished pancakes will still be quite soft in texture.

Serve as you like, with butter and maple syrup, which is what we did, or with little breakfast sausage and broiled tomatoes, which is what we didn't, due to the lack of any sausages and being to lazy to go pick tomatoes. Not to mention we scoffed the lot, just the two of us. If we were more moderate, this recipe would cut in half quite nicely. Oh well, next time.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Pot-Roasted Chicken in Tomato-Sage Gravy

Brr... chilly for September, isn't it? My tomatoes have not been the best this year, between the rain and the cool weather.  Good enough for this, though, which is a good start to fall cooking - still using fresh tomatoes and herbs, but something slow cooking and filling to warm you up.

This is a pretty simple way to cook a chicken, but tomatoes and herbs make the sauce seem very rich and fancy. I used my favourite Persimmon tomatoes (which I don't even think I have written about yet!) They are a large, solid, orange tomato and gave the sauce a lovely golden colour. You can use whatever tomatoes you like or have, though.

6 to 8 servings
2 1/2 to 3 hours - 45 minutes prep time

a  2 to 3 kilo (4 to 6 pounds) chicken and its giblets, if available
2 - 3 shallots
2 - 3 large tomatoes
2 - 3 stalks of celery
1 cup chicken stock
2 bay leaves
6 to 8 fresh sage leaves
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
3 tbsps flour
salt, if needed
sage leaves and a little oil to fry, OPTIONAL

Remove as much visible fat from the chicken as you possibly can. You can take a lot of the skin right off, if you like. This will save you from having to skim the juices for the gravy. Finely mince the giblets, always supposing they came with your chicken. If they didn't, oh well. Sucks to be your chicken.

Peel and chop the shallots. Wash, trim and chop the celery. Blanch, peel and chop the tomatoes. Put the veg in a large heavy-bottomed pot with the chicken stock, the giblets, and the chicken. First, though, stuff the bay leaves, sage, and rosemary into the chicken. Cover the pot.

The chicken can be cooked on top of the stove, over medium-low heat for 30 to 40 minutes per kilo. Turn it over halfway through the cooking time. If you prefer, you can instead cook it in the oven (for 45 minutes per kilo, at 350°F.) It is not necessary to turn the chicken over in this case, but it must go in a pot that can go into the oven, obviously.

Remove the cooked chicken to a serving plate, and cover it with foil while you make the gravy. Let it rest for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Strain the pan juices* and discard the giblets and vegetable pulp; press them to extract as much usable liquid as possible. Skim off the fat if there is too much. Put the flour in a saucepan, and slowly stir into it 2 cups of the pan juices, being sure that the flour is smoothly dissolved. Taste, and adjust the salt.

Cook the gravy over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened.If you have much more than 2 cups of pan liquid when you make the gravy, you can thicken it all - just add another tablespoon and a half of flour per extra cup.

To garnish the chicken with sage leaves, pick 6 or 8 medium-sized leaves in good condition. Heat a little oil (just enough to cover the leaves) in as small a skillet as you have, and fry them over medium-high heat, a few at a time, until crisp and lightly browned.  Turn them half way through the process. Drain them on a paper towel, and arrange them as you like over the chicken.

I put the sauce and garnish over the whole chicken, then cut it up. It probably makes more sense to do it the other way. Cut it up and arrange it on the serving plate, then pour over the sauce and garnish.

*If you didn't have any giblets, you can instead just remove the herbs and purée the vegetables in a blender for a naturally thick sauce, although I would still thicken it with the flour. 

Last year at this time I made Tomatillo & Sausage Soup.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Apple & Blackberry Pie

When my mother-in-law moved up here, one of the things she brought for the garden were some thornless blackberry bushes. I have to say, they're amazing! They flower for months, then they ripen for months - sweet-tart, spicy-scented and juicy. They are easy to pick, and go beautifully with apples. Mmm... pie.

Cloves are not my favourite spice in general, but when I was picking the blackberries they told me they would like to go with some cloves. They were right.

8 servings - a 10" pie
2 hours - 1 hour prep time - allow time to cool

Make the Crust:
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter
8 to 9 tablespoons ice cold water

Put the flour and salt into a food processor, and whizz briefly. Cut the butter into chunks and add them to the food processor. Process until the butter is the size of peas, then start adding ice cold water in tablespoons.

Once you have added enough that the mixture begins to hold together, turn the contents of the food processor out onto a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper. Press everything together to form a disc of dough, and wrap it up in the paper loosely. Set it aside to rest for about 15 minutes.

Divide the dough into 2 unequal portions. One should consist of about 60% of the dough, and the other should be about 40% of the dough. Roll out the larger portion into a circle a little larger than your pie plate, sprinkling it with a little flour to keep the rolling pin from sticking. Flip the circle of pastry into a 10" pie plate while it is still attached to the paper, then peel the paper off. Press the pastry into the bottom and sides of the pan.

Once the bottom crust has been filled, roll out the remaining dough in the same way as the first piece, although it should only be the size to top the pie.

Make the Pie:
1/2 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 pods green cardamom
1/4 cup arrowroot OR tapioca starch
OR 3 tablespoons minute tapioca
2 cups blackberries
5 to 6 cups thinly sliced, peeled apples

Preheat the oven to 450°F. 

Mix the honey, cloves and cinnamon. Crush the cardamom pods, and discard the green papery hulls. Grind the seeds finely and mix them with the honey and other spices.

Rinse and pick over the blackberries, and drain them well.

Peel, core and slice the apples. Toss the arrowroot, tapioca starch, or minute tapioca with the apples. Fill the prepared pie crust with the apples and blackberries, a layer of each at a time, for a total of three layers of each.

Place the top pie crust over the pie, peeling away the parchment paper once it is in place, then pinch it sealed all the way around the pie. Cut or pierce the top of the pie in several spots to allow the steam to escape as the pie cooks.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375°F and bake for a further 45 to 55 minutes, until nicely browned. Best to bake this with a cookie sheet under the  pie plate - it will be pretty juicy.

Last year at this time I made Pollo alla Cacciatora.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Small Shining Light Watermelon & Sugar Baby Watermelon - Watermelon Twins

These two melons are remarkably similar in appearance and flavour, in spite of originating on different continents. I have found them both to be very good: not the sweetest watermelons, but sweet enough, with a pleasant flavour and crisp, juicy, fine-textured flesh. Seeds are small but numerous, and since they grow in defined channels fairly easily removed. I can recommend both these melons, but I do think that Small Shining Light is the better of the two, mostly because of its better keeping qualities. 

Small Shining Light Watermelon

Small Shining Light (Ogonyok)

This traditional Russian watermelon is still fairly difficult to find, although it is very well suited to growing in Canada. It was brought to North America by Seed Savers Exchange 1991, and has been picked up by a number of seed sellers since, including Cottage Gardener Heirloom Seed, Heritage Harvest Seed, and Tatiana's Tomato Base.

The watermelons are round to slightly oval, with a very dark green solid-coloured rind, often with a yellow patch where they rest on the ground. The vines are quite manageable, at about 10 feet, and the melons vary from about cannonball size to basketball size. At 80 to 90 days to maturity from planting out, they are very workable in our shortish seasons.The black seeds are small, and reasonably easy to remove from the crisp, juicy, pink flesh.

Small Shining Light is supposed to be tolerant of cooler weather, and certainly it still produced reasonably well in this cool, rainy year. However, it was not as sweet as it has been in other, drier, warmer, summers. Still, very enjoyable. Unlike Sugar Baby, Small Shining Light is a good keeper, and can be kept for several weeks after harvest in a cool, dry spot. Not surprisingly, I have found them to hold on the vine quite well too.

Sugar Baby Watermelon

Sugar Baby

Sugar Baby is a much easier to find watermelon than Small Shining Light. My first impulse is to say that, in spite of this, Small Shining Light is much the better watermelon, but this view is coloured by the fact that my first packet of Sugar Baby seeds grew vines that rarely produced any melons! It took me a while to figure this out, as the two melons look SO similar. I did finally figure it out last summer, and this spring I threw out my old seeds, got a new packet, and made sure the two were not growing close enough together to confuse me. So now, I finally have Sugar Baby melons. They seem to be producing more melons than the Small Shining Light, but noticeably smaller. Also, they have not kept well on the vine - I have had to throw away several which were very overripe (rotten) as I did not pick them early enough.

The description for Small Shining Light fits Sugar Baby as well, with the note that they are smaller melons, shorter vines at about 6 feet, and ripen sooner - 75 to 80 days to maturity should do it. As noted, mine did not hold at all well, so watch them carefully and eat them promptly.

Sugar Baby started life as the much less attractively named Tough Sweets. M. Hardin of Geary, Oklahoma, inbred and selected Tough Sweets for 13 years before releasing the resulting watermelon in 1955 as Sugar Baby, since which time it has spread far and wide as well adapted, early, small melon. Tough Sweets seems to have disappeared as a watermelon, completely supplanted by its offspring.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Polenta Tart with Tomatoes, Peppers & Feta Cheese

I made two of these at the same time, and since I only have one tart pan I put the second one in a 10" springform pan. Which worked fine, but I was a bit surprised to discover that it took a good 15 minutes longer to bake than the one in the tart pan. Thicker metal, and just a tad deeper; it made a significant difference. Just another little reminder that we recipe writers do our best, but there is no substitute for using your own judgement when cooking.

This looks a lot like pizza, but it isn't really like it at all. It's closer to quiche, but again, not really that much like it.  I think this is best served just warm rather than hot, or even cold (room temperature). It won't keep long though. We ate the leftovers 24 hours later (refrigerated in the mean time) and they were fine, but not as good as freshly baked.

6 to 8 servings
2 hours - 1 hour prep time - allow time to cool

Make the Crust:
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons butter
1 large egg

Put the water, salt and cornmeal into a pot and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. By the time this comes up to the boil, it should already be so thick as to be just about done. Once it is thick enough to be pulling away from the pot, remove it from the heat, cover it, and set aside to cool for about half an hour.

Use the butter to generously butter the sides of a 10" tart pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.

When the cornmeal has cooled, beat the egg into it. Press the polenta evenly over the bottom of the pan and up the sides enough to make a depression about half to 3/4 of an inch deep. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Make the Filling:
3/4 cup plain thick yogurt
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 large eggs
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Whisk the yogurt, feta, eggs, and pepper together. Spread the mixture evenly into the prepared polenta tart shell.

Finish the Tart:
1 medium beefsteak type tomato
1 or 2 small cubanelle or large sweet banana peppers
2 tablespoons sliced sweet or green onion
2 tablespoons finely shredded fresh basil or mint leaves
1/2 cup grated old Cheddar cheese

Wash and slice the tomato thinly. Core and deseed the pepper, and chop in thin slices. Mince the onion and herb. Grate the cheese.

Arrange the vegetables attractively over the top of the tart, and sprinkle the cheese evenly over them. Bake the tart for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until firm and set, and the cheese is lightly browned. Let cool to lukewarm before serving.

Last year at this time I made Corn & Chicken Egg Drop Soup

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Jellied Gazpacho

Okay, so it's tomato aspic. A very good tomato aspic, though. I'm proud to say that everything but the salt, vinegar, and gelatine (okay, and the olive garnish) came from our garden. 

I didn't have any white wine vinegar, only balsamic. Which was fine for flavour, but left the aspic looking a bit murky.

6 to 8 servings
45 minutes prep time; at least 2 hours to set

Make the Tomato Broth:
2 cups diced tomatoes
1 stalk celery
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt

Put the tomatoes, celery and water into a pot, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until soft, then strain through a fine seive. You should have 2 cups of liquid when finished; add a little vegetable broth or water if you are short.

Make the Gazpacho:
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon powdered gelatine
1 large cucumber (cups chopped)
1 small stalk celery, with the leaves
3 tablespoons chopped green pepper
2 sprigs parsley
1 small clove of garlic

Put the vinegar in a mixing bowl, and sprinkle the gelatine over it.

Peel the cucumber, if it warrants it, and cut it up roughly. Trim and chop the celery, pepper, parsley and garlic. You can chop it all fairly finely by hand, or put it in a food processor and chop finely, but do leave some texture.

Bring the tomato broth up to a boil, then mix it with the vinegar and gelatine until the gelatine is completely dissolved. Mix in the chopped vegetables and pour the mixture into a 4 cup mold. Chill until set.

Last year at this time I made Peach Jelly.